Credit card balances jumped in the second quarter and are above $1 trillion for the first time

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  • Total credit card indebtedness increased by $45 billion in the April-through-June period, a rise of more than 4% and just above $1 trillion.
  • The Fed's measure of credit card debt 30 or more days late rose to 7.2% in the second quarter, the highest rate since the first quarter of 2012.

Americans increasingly turned to their credit cards to make ends meet heading into the summer, sending aggregate balances over $1 trillion for the first time ever, the New York Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

Total credit card indebtedness rose by $45 billion in the April-through-June period, an increase of more than 4%. That took the total amount owed to $1.03 trillion, the highest gross value in Fed data going back to 2003.

The increase in the category was the most notable area as total household debt edged higher by about $16 billion to $17.06 trillion, also a fresh record.

"Household budgets have benefitted from excess savings and pandemic-related debt forbearances over the past three years, but the remnants of those benefits are coming to an end," said Elizabeth Renter, data analyst at personal finance site NerdWallet. "Credit card delinquencies continue an upward trend, a growing sign that consumers are feeling the pinch of high prices and lower savings balances than they had just a few years ago."

As card use grew, so did the delinquency rate.

The Fed's measure of credit card debt 30 or more days late climbed to 7.2% in the second quarter, up from 6.5% in Q1 and the highest rate since the first quarter of 2012 though close to the long-run normal, central bank officials said. Total debt delinquency edged higher to 3.18% from 3%.

"Credit card balances saw brisk growth in the second quarter," said Joelle Scally, regional economic principal within the Household and Public Policy Research Division at the New York Fed. "And while delinquency rates have edged up, they appear to have normalized to pre-pandemic levels."

Fed researchers say the rise in balances reflects both inflationary pressures as well as higher levels of consumption.

On the inflation issue, household income adjusted for inflation and taxes is running some 9.1% below where it was in April 2020, putting additional pressure on consumers, according to SMB Nikko Securities.

"This is an issue because the sustainability of consumers' pandemic debt-binge was partially predicated upon their incomes steadily rising," Troy Ludtka, senior U.S. economist at SMB Nikko, said in a client note. "Instead, the opposite occurred, and now the rate at which borrowers are running late on their debt payments is back to pre-Covid levels. This could be the newest challenge facing embattled commercial banks."

The central bank also said demand for card issuance has eased, which has come in conjunction with banks saying that credit standards are tightening.

Debt across other categories showed only modest changes. Newly originated mortgages rose by $393 billion though total mortgage debt nudged lower to just over $12 trillion. Auto loans increased by $20 billion to $1.58 trillion and student loans decreased to $1.57 trillion ahead of the lifting of the moratorium on payments.

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